Life Sciences Labs Need Cobots, Not Robots
The John Henry legend, as told by Johnny Cash, not only recalls a competition between a steel-driving man and a steamdrill, it also suggests that the competition was poorly conceived: John Henry said to the steamdrill, “How is you? / Pardon me, Mister Steamdrill, I suppose you didn’t hear me, huh? / Well, can you turn a jack? Can you lay a track? Can you pick and shovel, too? / Listen, this hammer-swinger is talkin’ to you.”
The steamdrill, a nineteenth-century machine that lacked an on-board computer, much less a human-computer interface, understandably, if tragically, failed to answer John Henry’s questions. If only the steamdrill had been equipped with advanced robotics technology, the rock-drilling competition might have been avoided. A collaboration might have been arranged instead, giving John Henry the opportunity to demonstrate his jack-turning and track-laying versatility. Also—and this is no small detail—John Henry would have survived.